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Ironwood genius hour helps kids pursue interests


March 9, 2019


Ironwood — It’s not often students get to pick what they are learning about. In Ironwood sixth grade teacher Jason Hofstede’s class, it happens four times a year.

Once a quarter Hofstede gives his students the opportunity to design and complete a “genius hour” project for extra credit.

“I’ve had kids record songs in their folks’ basement studio. I’ve had kids make a four-foot Eiffel Tower out of popsicle sticks. One girl made the pattern, sewed the dress, modeled the dress with help of grandma — never used a sewing machine and wanted to learn how to do it. One kid made a working crossbow with his grandpa out of slingshot rubber,” Hofstede said.

He said he asks the students to brainstorm lists of things they’ve always wondered or wanted to learn more about that are too in-depth to simply Google.

Hofstede said he works with them to whittle the list down to the top two or three ideas, and has them fill out a form laying out what the project will be and why it’s a good project to work on.

“It’s all generated from them, I just kind of guide it,” Hofstede said.

Hofstede said he has the parents then sign off on the project, as it often requires work at home and help from relatives.

By choosing their own topics, he said the students are learning something they’re interested in.

“This gets such good buy-in from the students. They’re generating the ideas, they’re doing the research. They’re the ones who wanted to know about this stuff,” Hofstede said, adding that even some of the kids who don’t usually make an effort get excited about the opportunity.

He also meets with the students throughout the process in preparation for the class presentation.

“They have to document what they make somehow — either picture, video, or like a diary” Hofstede said.

Most of the work is completed at home, however, Hofstede does devote some class time to research.

“That’s how it gets its name, one hour a week we can dedicate to (the projects),” he said.

Students usually work on their project for four to six weeks.

Hofstede got the idea from a co-teacher, who modeled it off a practice in Silicon Valley.

“Google allows it’s engineers to spend 20 percent of their time to work on any pet project that they want,” an explanation at reads. “Google’s policy has worked so well that it has been said that 50 percent of Google’s projects have been created during this creative time period.”

The site includes Gmail and Google News as projects that came out of the company’s genius hour.

Along with learning something they’re interested in, it’s a good chance for students to raise their grades. Hofstede said the best projects can sometimes result in a whole letter grade improvement.

“It’s worth 40 points and my tests are usually worth 20-25 points,” Hofstede said.

The students also get a chance to take pride in what they are working on in class.

“For me, it’s really just exciting to see the kids getting excited about something that comes from them,” Hofstede said.


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